Sunday, December 10, 2017

An excerpt from "Meditation : A safety guide"

Here's an excerpt from a book written by a "meditation mentor" in Singapore. My posting of this excerpt is not to endorse any system of meditation or any religious tradition. It does serve as a rather thorough exploration of the downsides of meditation, and why it may not be recommended for a lot of people.

[Abridged from Piya Tan, Meditation : A safety guide, Singapore: The Minding Centre, 2013 Intro.]
The meeting of western science and eastern meditation has not always been smooth [1]. On the positive side, we now know more about the nature and effects of meditation—and how to recognize the “real” thing—or at least avoid the negative aspects.

By the mid-1970s, clinical reports of negative outcomes of various mantra meditation programs began to appear in psychiatric literature [2] These included people becoming unemployable because they were unable to control their mental states (for example, everything around them seemed unreal), and even more serious problems ranging from depression and agitation to psychosis.

Leon Otis, a psychologist at Stanford Research Institute, found that adverse outcomes were related to how long that person had meditated using such methods [3]. Michael Persinger, neuroscientist at the Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, found that, for some people, meditation can bring on symptoms of complex partial epilepsy, such as visual abnormalities, hearing voices, feeling vibrations, or experiencing automatic behaviours [4].


Another concern, explored by Esalen founders, Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan, was that advanced practitioners of mantra meditation ranked high in suggestibility [5], not surprising given its similarity to self-hypnosis. A number of people in the US have successfully brought legal suits for damages suffered as a result of their participation in meditation programmes, especially commercialized methods such as TM (“transcendental meditation”) [6]. Legal suits against TM for damages were common [7].

Many people doing TM suffered from problems and difficulties regarding thinking and attention. Other impairments included emotional difficulties, blackouts, anxiety, “spacing out” [feeling drowsy, weak and bored], amnesia, and losing track of time [8]. In short, TM is not safe [9].

In the early years of Buddhism in the US, two approaches were common. The first was the empty-mind mantra meditation based on the Hindu tradition. The second, from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is reflective meditation, where you reflect as a way of focusing the mind.

In the former, a close relationship between teacher and pupil included attention to individual differences and any problems which might arise. In contrast to earlier approaches, meditation today is often being sold by mass marketing, and often by individuals who have no religious affiliation or do not declare it [10].


[1] This section is mostly based on

[2] Clinical reports of negative outcomes. A A Lazarus, “Psychiatric problems precipitated by Transcendental Meditation,” Psychological Reports 39 1976:601-602. For full biblio, see Meditation: A Safety Guide, 2013.

[3] N Mead, “Why meditation may not reduce stress,” Natural Health 23,6 Nov-Dec 1993: 80-85. For full biblio, see Meditation: A Safety Guide, 2013.

4] Michael A Persinger, “Transcendental Meditation and general meditation are associated with enhanced complex partial epileptic-like signs: Evidence of ‘cognitive kindling’?” Perceptual and Motor Skills 76, 1993:80-82. For full biblio, see Meditation: A Safety Guide, 2013.

[5] Michael Murphy & Steve Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, Big Sur, CA: Esa¬len Institute, 1989.

[6] On the dangers of TM (Transcendental Meditation) (a detailed insider report by Joe Kellett), see Another comprehensive insider’s website is

[7] Legal suits for damages. John Doe I-VI and Jane Doe vs Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; World Plan Executive Council-United States; Maharishi International University for the US District Court for the District of Columbia, 95-2848, 2849, 2851, 2852, 2853, 2854 (consolidated); Jane Green vs Maharishi Mahesh Yogi et al. US District Court for the District of Columbia, 87-0015-OG. Patrick Ryan vs World Plan Executive Council-United States et al. US District Court for the District of Columbia, 87-0016-OG.

[8] Problems found in therapy. M T Singer & R Ofshe, “Thought reform and the production of psychiatric casualies,” Psychiatric Annals 20,4 1990:189-190.

[9] On the ineffectiveness and problems of TM, see A Lutz, Donne & Davidson 2007:41-43.

[10] On various aspects of the commercialization of meditation and pseudoscientific claims, see eg Barry L Beyerstein, “Pseudoscience and the brain: Tuners and tonics for aspiring superhumans” at…/…/articles/06Pseudoscience-and-Brain.pdf.

More of this excerpt from the author's Facebook page

More on this book

Introduction of this book

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